Two Ways of Dealing With an Angry Coworker

Angry at Work

How do you deal with an angry coworker who’s zeroed in on you?  In this post we’ll explore two options.  Hopefully you don’t have to deal with colleagues who are angry at work too often. But when you do, remember this post!

The Situation

You work at a fairly large financial organization. The company makes available several administrative assistants at your location to work with the financial advisors as needed on projects that come up.

As you are walking down the hall one day, a colleague, Adam, approaches you. He appears agitated and cuts you off when you say hi.

When Someone Takes Out Their Anger On You

“Look, I don’t appreciate what you did by snapping up Julie when I need her to work on my project this week. We’re supposed to share this person, and you’re always acting like she works exclusively for you! It’s just another— ”

You start to protest. “Adam, there must be mistake. I checked with Julie—“

Adam cuts you off, his face getting red. He brings his finger up, pointing in your face. “I don’t care. She’s working for me this week! You’ve pulled this before, and it’s getting ridiculous. You’re not the only one with an important project.” He turns and walk down the hall.

How to Deal with an Angry Coworker

Up to this point, Adam and you have gotten along all right. You’re not friends, but you don’t have a bad history. You have dealt with an angry coworker before, but not one this heated!  Your Leadership Through People Skills Book may have some answers, but unfortunately you left it at home.  So, in your bookless bewilderment over this misunderstanding, what should be your Q4 response?

A.  Go to HR.  Ask them to get involved.

B.  Ask Adam to talk. Try to work things out with him. Cooler heads can prevail—can’t they?

How to Deal with Angry People

Instead of only one answer being correct, both quite different actions could be the right ones. How can this be possible?

We wanted to make the point that your own leadership behavior never operates in a vacuum. A textbook solution has to be seen through the prism of the real-life circumstances in front of you.

Going to HR May Be Right If . . .

In this kind of situation, Answer A – getting an HR expert involved to help resolve the issue – may seem like a weak response for a Q4 leader. It might appear that you are handing over your interpersonal relationship issue for someone else to sort out. However, the game changer is the bullying behavior on Adam’s part. He appears to be on the verge of physical intimidation.

If you don’t know Adam well enough to feel completely safe in a follow-up discussion, it makes sense to consult your HR person for his/her expertise for proceeding. It may be that another meeting with Adam would include the HR person.

Talking Things Out May Be Right If . . .

On the other hand, if you know Adam well enough to feel he just lost his temper over this and you don’t feel intimidated by him generally, Answer B is the right approach for you. Arrange for the next meeting, but here are some tips you can apply to any meeting when emotions may run high:

  • Choose a place to meet that evokes calm.
  • Rehearse your message.
  • Be aware of your body language; you might be telegraphing negative messages.
  • Be an active listener when you meet.
  • Have a personal benefit for this person to work this out with you.
  • Be ready for the other person’s emotional reaction again. Acknowledge it. (A Q4 reflective statement helps here.)
  • Focus on the future – new work, projects.

Beyond Dealing with an Angry Coworker

Now that you can masterfully handle an angry coworker, what’s next?

If you’d like to further develop your leadership knowledge, check out our Learning for Leadership page.  A treasure trove of 40 more leadership tips, white papers, case studies and more awaits you.

If you’d like to put your leadership skills into practice at work and realize better results, visit our leadership development page.  Between leadership workshops, 360 feedback, executive coaching, and more, we’ve got you covered.

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